February 21st, 2010
08:18 AM ET

Was Taliban leader's capture really a good thing?

As coalition forces and insurgents battle each other in Marjah, some NATO and Afghan officials are talking about integration and reconciliation. CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour spoke with Taliban expert and journalist Ahmed Rashid, who's written many books on the subject, including the best-selling "Taliban." They discuss how Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar's capture could be a Catch-22, the likelihood of Taliban reconciliation and if there have already been secret meetings between the Taliban and Afghan government to discuss this.

Watch an excerpt from the interview
Related: U.N. envoy: Reconciliatory efforts needed in Afghanistan

Related: Afghan offensive likely first of many

Q: Are there any ongoing contacts with the Taliban?
A: There are. All the major international humanitarian agencies had had indirect contacts with the Taliban, not on a political basis, but basically protect their humanitarian activities, for example, protecting the school and health programs that they are running. The U.N. has been in the same position. For example, the U.N. had a very good polio inoculation campaign across the country in Taliban areas, as well. Now, that couldn't have been carried out unless there had been some kind of contact with the Taliban to give access to the nurses and doctors who went into carry this out. So that's the first reason.

I think the second reason is that the U.N. has been very deeply worried by the attack on its offices and one of its guest houses in Kabul a few weeks ago.

Q: Why did that happen? Because it's really one of the first times that's happened.
A: I think the assumption is that it was the main Taliban grouping based in Pakistan and was that some of the allies of Taliban who are more closely linked to al Qaeda, and was that done to, in fact, sabotage the relationship between the United Nations and any ongoing talks that might be held.

Q: First and foremost, it's all very nice that the U.N. talks on humanitarian issues and their polio vaccine, but that's not exactly what everybody's getting their hopes up, in terms of a political channel to bring the Taliban in. Is there any political channel of any credibility that's happening right now? [The U.N. special representative to Afghanistan] Kai Eide says no.
A: I think there is a channel that has been opened, and everybody acknowledges that that channel has to be carried out by President Karzai and the Afghan government. And all the others - you know, the Americans, U.N., everybody else should be - should help that channel, but they have to be for the time being bystanders.

Q: So how far is it? How far is it along?
A: There have been talks - there were talks much earlier in the spring of last year in Saudi Arabia, but there have been talks this winter again in Saudi Arabia. And, in fact, several of the Taliban leaders have been in Saudi Arabia meeting with the Saudis and also meeting with representatives of the Afghan government.

Q: But in terms of who do they represent, do they represent Mullah Omar? Are they real, credible Taliban who can actually deliver something?
A: The fact is that Mullah Baradar - this No. 2 who was arrested in Pakistan - was in Saudi Arabia for hajj just a few months ago. And all the reports are that he certainly did have talks, and there was a dialogue going on with the Saudis, with members of the Kabul government, and that is one of the main venues.

Q: So why now then? Why his arrest right now, if he's one of the main interlocutors?
A: I think there are many levels of problems here. The first thing is that I think the Pakistanis obviously have been under huge pressure to arrest active members of the Afghan Taliban who've been living in Pakistan for years and years.

Now, the Pakistan's ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence, could have arrested these people at any time. The question is, why did they choose to arrest them at this time? And I think one of the reasons is that the ISI wants to send a very firm message to the Taliban and to the Americans, also, that if there's going to be any talks or dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban, Pakistan will have to be the main broker or mediator.

Q: So this is a shot across the bow then?
A: In a way, it's a help across the bow, because you've arrested Taliban leaders, but certainly it's sending a very strong message by the ISI and the military in Pakistan to all of NATO and the Americans that, you know, don't go into talks without telling us because we are the key players here.

Q: So Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has praised this. He's met with the Pakistani prime minister. He's called it a significant move. Is it a significant move in the right direction? Yes, they've got this top man off the battlefield, but does it hurt in the other direction, in terms of political reintegration?

A: I think, in the long term, it will hurt. Why? Because Mullah Baradar is a very serious No. 2 of the Taliban. He's very close to Mullah Omar. He would not have gone to Saudi Arabia and met these people, frankly, without permission of Mullah Omar. I think this is a Taliban joint effort. Mullah Baradar is not some rogue element who's talking on his own or he's not a moderate Taliban who's talking on his own.

So I think the Americans, of course, are faced with this dilemma that they want to encourage this amongst the Pakistanis, but the problem now is that, if Mullah Baradar was going to be the main negotiator, he is now tainted, he is now arrested. He will now be seen by many of the Taliban and even by members of the Afghan government as an envoy for Pakistan rather than an envoy from his own movement, because this is a man who's been arrested and been interrogated.

Even if the Pakistanis want to use him now as a mediator and they set him free, you've tainted him.

Q: Given that you say he's so close to Mullah Omar, are there red lines? How does one deal with the Taliban, if you want to bring them in from the cold? How do they deal with the women's issue? How do they deal with the al Qaeda issue?
A: There has to be a political formal process of dialogue. And certainly, one of the main demands - the major demands of the Americans - is that they have to show signs that they've broken with al Qaeda. Now, the mainstream Taliban, which is represented by Mullah Omar, could possibly do this.

Now, how will they actually demonstrate this? That's the problem. How do you prove that you've broken with al Qaeda? It's not good enough for me to say, "I've broken with al Qaeda." I have to prove it on the ground. And one way I can prove it on the ground is actually by going after al Qaeda.

So would the Taliban be willing to actually go after al Qaeda? Because they know where al Qaeda is more than anyone. But don't forget that there are other elements here amongst the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who are very close to al Qaeda, who would do their utmost to sabotage any kind of dialogue like this.

Q: Let's talk about U.S. strategy in Marjah right now. ... Give us an idea of where the concentrations of Taliban are.
A: The Taliban control most of the south and a lot of the east. They control some of the provinces. They have a very strong presence around Kabul, and I think that's where the next offensive, Western offensive will be. They are strong in the north. They have pockets in Kunduz in the north and in the west, in Herat, and other provinces in the west. So it's become now a countrywide movement.

Q: Can [coalition forces] win the support? Are they bringing better governance? And are they telegraphing that message well enough?
A: Well, it's going to be piece by piece. This whole Marjah offensive is all about bringing governance - as General McChrystal has said, government in a box - to what is a critical area. It is, first of all, the poppy area. It is the concentration of the Taliban. And it was also the supply route for logistics going into Pakistan, where a lot of their recruits and logistics come. If you can settle that area, win the confidence of the people, certainly that would be a big blow, but you will have to repeat this many times in the next year or 18 months all over the country, particularly in the south, but in the east, you have to clear these provinces around Kabul, you have to push the Taliban back.

Q: Will the U.S. and NATO forces win praise for what they did, which was so loudly telegraphed this, in order to get the civilians out of harm's way? Certainly some Afghan officials are already saying that the majority of people in that area are pleased at the fact that there was so much notice given.

A: This is a completely new and different strategy, and I think it's a very positive strategy, and I think it's been met with a lot of positive response by Karzai, by the government, and by the local people. There's enormous care being taken. The 12 civilians who were killed by this rocket attack - General McChrystal was quick to acknowledge that, to apologize for that, and then to take action against that. So I think this is a way to win hearts and minds.

More from Christiane Amanpour

Filed under: al Qaeda • Baradar • Operation Moshtarak • Pakistan • Taliban
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Mr. Angel TIrao

    we from the philippines shooter are fully supporting the operation againts the taliban terorrist,we even want to join the fighting those talibans,........terror must be stop!!!!

    March 8, 2010 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. Do or Die

    Hmmmmm what do you say!!!

    Q: So this is a shot across the bow then?
    A: In a way, it's a help across the bow, because you've arrested Taliban leaders, but certainly it's sending a very strong message by the ISI and the military in Pakistan to all of NATO and the Americans that, you know, don't go into talks without telling us because we are the key players here.

    Ok! Thats it! No more talking...Nuke Pakistan and bring the troops home. If they can control the taliban, what have they been waiting for? And they are all living on billions of Aid from the US. This is a warped system if you ask me. Cut all aid to Pakistans Military until they sit up. Do you really think they would rather leave the Taliban and AL Q to get stronger if they are told to act or forget the AID!

    Its all mixed up!

    March 3, 2010 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. RT

    This brouhaha about getting to war in some far away place and spending a lot of money for it is some sort of gambling/investment (for those countries capable of financing it) must be some sort of stabilizing global economy – give surplus money to those who are in need in some far-flung place (may be more to the corrupt heads – but these are in control of the areas).

    Why not? In the name of patriotism and the belief that each side is fighting for what is supposed to be the right cause, the poor soldiers are primed to believe and go for each other's throat.

    What a sad phase for us to go through before perfection (as our state should have been before being kicked out from Eden) is achieved?

    Nobody in a right mind go to any place spend a cent or so without asking anything in return for it.

    Even with the act/plan of saving a soul or two, an offering (voluntary any way) is still asked from members.

    February 24, 2010 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  4. Diane

    BTW, the comment by Reven about being sick of hearing about the middle east, I guess doesn't care about what happens to our men and women over there. More should be made public about it. To many Americans have forgotten about them. I can tell you by experience that those men and women need all of our support and need to know we are here for them whether we support the war or not, I am one who doesn't support either wars, but support our military,

    February 23, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Diane

    It won't change a thing. They already have someone else in line to take his place. This is a cycle that won't be won. You cannot and will not defeat them as they are all over the world in most countries. We need to get out of Afghanistan. Bring our military home. My husband has been deployed to the middle east along with my son and consensus there is we need to get out.

    February 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bill Stone

    It's unfortunate about civilians being killed. They would still be alive if there wasn't any war. There wouldn't be any war if it weren't for a terrorist attack on 9/11.

    February 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mudassir

    Very easy to put blame on others, in this case on pakistan. It is not just coz of Pakistan's policies, but US is equally responsible for abondoning PAK and AFGHANISTAN after collapse of USSR. and if US is serious in getting hold of these people, Pakistan must be provided latest technology especially communication intercepting equippment to get the best result. one latest example is the arrest of Mullah baradar, who according to media reports has been arrested ciz of intercepts by the CIA post located in karachi.

    February 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Guest

    My brother is in Afghanistan fighting against terrorism and the Taliban. This news report really disappointed me. These men need to feel supported from the United States and other countries and CNN correspondents “reporting the news” have the audacity to put this in here. I follow the news every day making my own documentary of what is going on and this is not news rather it is an opinion that CNN obviously felt the need to throw in some obscured highly biased and very opinionated article. Shame on CNN for displaying this biased report on their site right where you see news on the war in Afghanistan!!

    February 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Devis Sri lanka

    It is sad ..But sometimes we have to answer the enemy from a language that they understand. If one thinks that they can discuss and solve problems with terrorist it will be a big mistake. We Sri lankans had that discussion tables with terrorists and got very bad results.
    Please do not under estimate the sacrifice of US and other forces who are fighting against the enemy. no body wants more mistakes . This war is not against Muslims. It is against a terrorist group who wear a over coat named Talibaan.Unfortunately they further say this a Holy war. I have a Quraan. Alllah has never told to kill another. Under the overcoat named Talibaan is suicide bombs against innocent Muslims and Christean people and mainly against the soldiers in the battle field who is paying from their lives for this most unjust war in the recent history. It is a great help to the whole world if Pakistan can support more to end this worst tragedy. Hope Pakistaan has not forgotten the suicide bomber who ran in to the cricket stadium. Take maximum informations from the one who has been captured.

    February 22, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  10. Noah, Mishawaka IN

    I agree, its not a matter of if we should have captured their leader. We got him for what he has already done. the problem is what are they going to do. We cant expect to control them but we should at least be able to push them, the people as a whole, towards becoming a less violent society.

    February 22, 2010 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. Blutarski

    NATO airstrikes killed 27 Afghan civilians in central Afghanistan. This is the 3rd time civilians have been killed in airstrikes since the Obama Administration began its major offensive in Afghanistan. Afghan council of ministers condemned the Obama Administration airstrike calling it "unjustifiable". Obama declared Afghanistan the necessary war. Is it necessary to continue to kill innocent people including children? Who is the war criminal now. Put Obama on trial.

    February 22, 2010 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  12. RT

    History cycles back; an ally now, an enemy after 5 years or so.

    Diplomats/politicians /economists/sales experts of all sides look nice.

    Soldiers look bad and ugly except for a few who are akin to these diplomat/political breeds.

    Sorry for those who don't – they'll just be sung or unsung heroes in their own time.

    BTW, why do we still have to go after each other's fellow Earthling's throat's? Is it for whatever intra-religious, economic, or whatever tribal belief conflict?

    Do we only have to unite when an inter-planetary or galactic invader comes over?


    February 22, 2010 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  13. peter

    Without question the capture of top Taliban officials is a positive step. Terrorist groups do not respond to postiive reinforcement, the populace does not want to live under taliban rule and the Taliban will respond to rezlity. We need to keep the pressure on constantly and show the populace that the Afghan government and the rule of law will be a permanent fixture throughout the country.The Bush regime is largley responsible for the U.S having to still be in Afghanistan; we need to accomplish the end game and leave.

    February 22, 2010 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bill Monroe

    How long are we going to keep him and the other two that were captured in prison?
    These guys will not cooperate and turn over any vital information so why not put them in front of a firing squad and let the rest of the Taliban leaders know what's in store for them too??

    February 22, 2010 at 6:09 am | Report abuse |
  15. reven

    is anyone else sick hearing about the middle east?

    February 22, 2010 at 5:20 am | Report abuse |
  16. Pinoy

    For the capture,no doubt it has some intelligence value and can help answers question on operational level.But that depends how they will interrogate Baradar,I guess water boarding is quite effective.coupled with at least 36 hours sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion.I think Baradar will sing like a canary and even dance too.
    But if they use him as a pawn for talks,I doubt it is feasible.Baradar will not fully cooperate knowing that NATO will not harm him and he knows his value.Factoring their commitment on Islam,Baradar is willing to die a martyr than to talk. So my opinion is that talking to taliban senior leaders is futile.Rather I talk to local taliban leaders which has more chance of success.Use a carrot and stick diplomacy and use their tribal differences as a crack for leverage.

    February 22, 2010 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
  17. Akber Ali

    it does not matter even if Osama or Mullah Umar is captured. The people of Afghanistan and NWFP believe that all this is a war against Muslims. No matter what you do, unless the perception of the people is changed about this war no change should be expected. The day US Army leave Afghanistan, Taliban will again surface because every individual is a Taliban. Pushtoon do not trust USA – it is that simple.

    February 21, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  18. byronsliq

    I believe there's many more where he came from and his capture probably would only be a temporary irritation.

    February 21, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Robert M. Noonan

    It seems to me that without a concerted offensive the leaders of the Talliban have little reason to discuss anything with us and are more likely to go back to their oppression of the people under their control instead of running for their lives. Bleed them enough and they will be more likely to concede the notion that some of their actions are counterproductive to their existence. However if the response is "you don't understand these people, they simply won't ever quit" from Amanpour and other Jihadist apologists then just kill them all and let god sort them out. Allah Akbar!

    February 21, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  20. steve dreyer

    A year or so ago during a historic election campaign, we were told that we'd be getting out of that corrupt pit of a country.....as well as Iraq. Now the story is that we're in for a tough fight with heavy American casualties.What a waste of our precious young people and scarce resources!!!!

    What are we doing there anyway? Will our so called leaders ever keep their promises?????!!!!!

    February 21, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  21. kyle

    I like how this guy is an "expert" but all his opinions are just that, opinions. He hasn't had contact with the ISI, or NATO, or the US Forces, and all this is conjecture. Even if the Taliban was completely anti-al Qaeda, and was fighting them as much as us, it doesn't change the fact that they are just as bad. They impose their extreme vision of Islam on the country and you get the religious purgings that was happening a decade ago.

    February 21, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Michael Bussard

    Listen i do not want take away the gratitude we Americans have for our troops doing such a great job there, BUT, we still do have the leader of the organization that attacked us on 9/11. I am not naive to think terrorism would just stop with Bin Ladens capture, but that would be the true cross roads of this conflict.

    -Mike Pontiac, Michigan

    February 21, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Joe Doe

    Talks with no action – while US soldies are dying for nothing really. Just to allow for more talks.

    February 21, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  24. John Steele

    What a ridiculous headline. Was his capture a good thing? Absolutely. What else were the troops supposed to do? Have a tea party and play nice? The fact is that our enemies have a blind hatred of us and don't need their leaders to coerce them into an attack. Better that the bastards should try and attack without the "leadership" of their higher ranks.

    February 21, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  25. Rob

    I am sorry, but I dont trust this person being interviewed.
    He seems sympathetic to the Taliban if you ask me.
    The reason you capture the Taliban leader (s) is because on September 11, 2001 Al-quida attacked America. They were backed and supported by a terror organization named the taliban.
    The taliban who tried to destroy culture in afganistan. Who Destroyed statues, took away any rights of women.
    This is why we are to capture these guys.
    Unfortunately, it would appear your gues could be part of this Administration who seems to also be somewhat sympathetic with the taliban.
    These are bad people and should not be allowed to continue

    February 21, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  26. jeremy

    what was bad was letting the news media know about it

    February 21, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  27. David

    #2 to Mullah Omar is not part of the forgiveness strategy. Good they took him. It is sad to hear how much of the country the Taliban have taken back. Thank you George Bush! We need to be clear that Pakistan has never been our friend, even if they have been our allie. They pursue their self-interest, which includes massive military support from us in their confrontation with India. They really have no problem with the Taliban, but they will use them like a pawn.

    February 21, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  28. pravin

    Just some comments from my own experience..
    1) I can confirm that some of the NGO's do pay protection money to some of the Taliban tribal leaders at $300 per head per month
    2) Neither your Q nor the A mention India with whom Karzai has strong relations.
    3) The Indian presence in the South is easily seen in the roads and clinics built with Indian money... This region is the One-eyed Mullah's Mullah fiefdom.
    4) Holbrooke's bluster is just that. Nothing of any significance. Kayani's decision to "capture" Baradar is likely a message to the "Southern" Taliban tribal leaders NOT to have contacts with India..They think they have the North already in their pocket . Its a fact that the ISI alone are "interrogating" Barradar, not the CIA. Baradar may well have had contact with Karzai and some Indian agents.
    5) I predict Baradar will be released unharmed into Afghanistan w/o any CIA involvement...
    6) Mullah Omar, the one-eyed wonder, would be happy to cut a deal with Karzai, cedeing control of the North, in return for unfettered control over the South. With the Canadian disengagement, and now the Dutch, this year may see a departure of many of the Europeans.. Karzai and his nemesis the ISI can read the handwriting on the wall. Withdrawal within 2 years as Obama promised before the 2012 lections...
    7) The main ISI worry is what will India do in this context? India has 20 times the funds to deploy today than they had some 20 years ago when they backed the Tajik Ahmed Shah Mahsood...
    8) India has come to believe that Pakistan is a proxy for China, its main "enemy"..
    9) Kayani is blissfully unaware of "finances" .. it is Zardari that keeps the country from default... Once the US pulls up stakes, Pakistan will be bereft of any capital as the Karachiwallas flee.. and the country will certainly default ... even China may not want to fill the begging bowl..

    February 21, 2010 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  29. Branond

    If he's at all approachable and able to be worked with, perhaps he was arrested so that he didn't get killed while this uptick in fighting is going on. That might explain the "why now" aspect of the arrest. Maybe arresting him is a way of protecting by taking him off the battle field without hurting his credibility so that we can deal with him in the future. Just a thought.

    February 21, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  30. ELVIS

    This Taliban leader should be immediately shot by a firing squad!!!!!! End of story....next?

    February 21, 2010 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  31. Sam Lash

    It seems futile to negotiate with a group that only hurts people (both within the Taliban and the rest of society). The Taliban ONLY exist to harm men, women and children worldwiide. Their leaders should be arrested and held accountable. The Taliban, as a group, need to disappear.

    February 21, 2010 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  32. Josh B

    I'm sorry but reconciliation is a very risky idea. Pakistan already tried being peaceful with the Taliban by letting them have their rule of law in a province. What did that get them? Oh yeah, the Taliban turned around and started moving violently into other provinces. Unless the Taliban can say, we will abide by your laws, then they need to be wiped out. But I would be very hesitant to trust them.

    February 21, 2010 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  33. Sami

    Why should Afghanistan be seen through Pakistan's lenses? It has always been the case that a Pakistani "expert" on Afghanistan has lots of says on Afghanistan issues. It is rare to see an Afghan deliver their expert opinions about their own country. Enough is enough, the world should see this fact now and allow the Afghans to take the leadership of their own country. Pakistani "expert" should focus more on their own country and let us alone. We have suffered plenty for over 30 years due to devastating policies of Pakistan towards Afghanistan. And Pakistan needs to learn that they can never succeed in imposing their wills on Afghanistan. History has proven that–superpowers and great empires have failed to impose their wish on Afghanistan.

    February 21, 2010 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  34. Jason

    Asking questions like this.....This is why the U.S. is slipping out of power on many different fronts.

    February 21, 2010 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  35. Dan Nelson Lafayette,IN

    The Taliban are a people that go by very strict Islamic law and have executed women by a shot to the head in public for not following their laws. If they renounce their attacks on women and children and stop their suicide bombings against the Afghan and follow human rights for the people of Afghanistan then we their should be talks otherwise we should attack, capture or kill these terrorists that are only concerned that they again want to control Afghanistan for their fanatical religious beliefs.

    February 21, 2010 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |